Fly in amber? Nordic-Balkan citizen diplomacy and cultural connections then and now

Active citizen diplomacy and cultural connections between the Nordic countries and the Balkans date their beginnings to the eighteenth century. The contacts between ordinary people in Finland and Bulgaria, Sweden and Serbia are a little researched but important aspect of the common history of Europe, created not by states or officials, but by individuals and associations. In the first period until World War II, cultural actors such as writers and artists contributed to the dialogue, but after the change of regimes in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, cultural friendship associations maintained non-formal connections beside the official diplomatic relations. Individual contacts were scarce and exchange mainly channeled through these structures. Today, the politics have changed, but where does citizen diplomacy stand? The role of associations has been significantly reduced in comparison with the Communist era and the friendship model appears antiquated in the time of Internet, increasing individual tourism and growing possibilities for cultural exchange within the European Union framework. This historical overview and conceptual article argues that both a fresh approach and a critical review about citizen diplomacy are needed. Looking in the rear-mirror of the past and into the present and future, it becomes clear that earlier relations and today’s contacts must be mapped out to a larger extent than has ever been done before.

Dorijan Hajdu
University of Belgrade, E-mail: dorijan.hajdu (at) fil.bg.ac.rs
Sabira Ståhlberg
Independent researcher, E-mail: hallo (at) coloritrf.eu

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